16-16 Segment 1: Encouraging Young People To Vote

 

Synopsis:  Young people love political campaigns but, unfortunately, they don’t have the same enthusiasm about voting in elections. Why is this? And how can we encourage more young people to cast their votes on election day? We talk to two political specialists about the phenomenon and how we can make it easier for America’s youth to vote.

Host:  Gary Price.  Guests: David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision PR Group, Atlanta, GA; Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), at the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, Tufts University.
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The Youth Vote: Why it’s important in every election

Gary Price: You’ve seen it on the news this election cycle – young people following presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders around on his campaign appearances to colleges and universities; the same with Secretary Hillary Clinton and candidates Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. Young people gravitate toward the excitement and pageantry of elections but, unfortunately, they are notorious for not voting in them. Why is that? What is it that keeps the 18- to 24-year-olds from the voting booths? We spoke to two savvy politicos about this problem and about ways to encourage America’s voting-aged kids to go to the polls. First, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg. She’s the Director at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement – or CIRCLE – at the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University. Their research shows that young people have the lowest turnout on voting day…

Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg: We have been watching a declining trend since about 2008 and 10 cycle. It went down all the way to 17% of 18- to 24-year-olds turning out on the 2014 general election. So it was quite a decline and we did think from research (there were) a couple different reasons. One is that the young people had been quite disillusioned by the traditional political institutions and activities, including voting, but also engagement with political parties, religious congregations, unions and even churches. And not having jobs when they graduated from high school and colleges really did a lot to that. It gave young people this impression that regardless of how they work or what right things they do, sometimes don’t work out for them because the systems are rigged. So that’s one of the reasons why we’re seeing the decline.

Price: David Johnson says there is another reason why young people can’t make it to the polls – they’re just too busy. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision PR Group in Atlanta, Georgia. In their political practice they represent exclusively Republican candidates…

David Johnson: A lot of it is they’re interested in the preliminaries, they’re interested in all the media coverage, but when it comes to taking time out of their day to actually go voting, they often find excuses not to: They’re too busy; they have classes – they’re still in school; they’re working – their career comes first; their personal lives come first. They like the idea of being involved in politics but when it comes to the actual taking time out to go and vote, they find that they are too busy. And we’ve seen this not just with this generation but previous generations of young people as well. It’s nothing new.

Price: Issues and a sense of civic duty are what usually bring people out to vote. Johnson says that the economy is one of a number of issues that should encourage young people to get out and vote…

Johnson: The issues really seem to be income inequality, the economy, climate control, health care and education. These really seem to be the issues that are motivating young voters. Some on the more conservative side, they seem motivated by immigration and what they feel as a threat to the United States. But overall, it’s really the income inequality or the perceived inequality, education, climate control that really seems to be motivating these young people.

Price: Kawashima-Ginsberg agrees and says that today’s youth really got hit hard during the recession…

Kawashima-Ginsberg: Young people are just as divided as the general electorate. That said, there is a general theme around economic wellbeing, whether it is about actually equalizing economic outcome for all people or reducing economic regulation, young people are looking for a candidate and political platform that can address their economic needs. Main targets for young people, of course, are jobs. They really suffered in the Great Recession and recovering the job market was much slower than for the older voters. So that does matter a lot. That said, depending on whether young people have college experience or not, young people who have gone to college really do care about debt – both college affordability and college debt – whereas people who are already in the workforce care deeply about minimum wage and child and paternity and maternity leave, and things like that.

Price: It’s no wonder then that so many young people are gravitating toward the campaign of Bernie Sanders. Johnson says that Sanders’ ideology seems custom-made for today’s youth, but maybe not for their parents and grandparents…

Johnson: Believe it or not, one thing that they like about Bernie Sanders is that he’s a Socialist. To them, socialists and the ideals that are espoused by Bernie Sanders sound new and fresh. They don’t have the connotation that older Americans have with the term “socialism,” and that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing this appeal of Bernie Sanders to the young voters, because he seems like a fresh, new face with new ideas. The older voters, when they hear the word “socialism” they think of Communism, the Cold War, the Soviet Union. Young voters, remember many of these, they were born never knowing the Cold War, never knowing of the Soviet Union, so to them this seems like, you know, a really great idea, a great term, and it’s not the politics as usual. And that’s what they like also.

Price: Kawashima-Ginsberg says that Sanders’ campaign also aligns with those values that are important to a wide range of young voters…

Kawashima-Ginsberg: Young people are known to prioritize issues the candidates represent, and also integrity over things like personality characteristics and even experience. And Bernie Sanders’ platform really embodies that. He’s somebody that’s been faithfully following the same issues in some ways. He’s been trying to address economic inequality as an Independent for decades. Many of them were not even born when he started working on this issue. So this sense that he’s been really consistent and authentic and really consistent really matters to these young voters.

Price: Johnson says that Hillary Clinton needs to work on her persona if she wants to succeed with the youth vote and bring young voters to her camp…

Johnson: Hillary is going to have to appease the Sanders movement by a vice-presidential candidate that really appeals to them and also talks in their language. And see Hillary’s problem is she keeps reinventing herself so many times that she doesn’t seem real and authentic to the young voters. Young voters like authenticity. Bernie Sanders, as old as he is, comes across authentic. Donald Trump comes across authentic. Hillary comes across as a rebranded politician who doesn’t speak the rhetoric and people really don’t know who is the real Hillary.

Price: What about the GOP candidates? What do they have going that might make young voters head to the polls this November?

Kawashima-Ginsberg: The youth participation in the Republican Primary has been breaking records in every state that we have been able to track the youth vote. And that is an incredible amount of excitement. What seems to be happening, though, is that some of the young people are enthusiastically supporting Donald Trump, but not to the same extent as older voters. Where some young voters who are conservatives seem to be mobilized by the fact that they want to vote against Donald Trump, and that explains why their votes are split really evenly between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. They’re very close to each other, and then Kasich far behind, but they haven’t really picked the candidate the way Democratic voters have.

Johnson: Ted Cruz? His problem is, who is Ted Cruz? Is he the Establishment person that he was when he was with the Bush campaign and then in the Bush Administration? Is he truly this Tea Party rebel? Or is he just an opportunist? And John Kasich his problem is, he comes across as “politics as usual.” With Donald Trump, he’s trying to tap into voter anger. And look, there is a lot of voter anger. Even a lot of the Sanders’ supporters, they’re angry at the status quo. That’s what Donald Trump appeals to, and he’s hoping to ride this all the way to the White House.

Price: Even if a young person is taken with a particular candidate, often it’s not easy to vote on Election Day. Kawashima-Ginsberg says that’s because college students often don’t know where to register to cast their votes…

Kawashima-Ginsberg: Voting on college campuses can be so challenging. Some kids don’t even know what their physical address is because they live in a dorm and they just have a P.O. box. For example, at the University (Tufts) where I work, students voted at five different polling locations in two different municipalities depending on where their dorm was. And if you’re just a college student just getting into the voting process, they would think that, “Wow, this is really complicated. I must not know enough.” But we hear a lot of this, “Yes, this is too inconvenient,” but also they often feel like they’re not qualified enough to understand this very complex thing that is just voting. And it just shouldn’t be that hard.

Price: She says that making that process easier and helping young people understand the process no matter where they live would go a long way toward helping more young voters go to the polls. Johnson isn’t as convinced that this will help much…

Johnson: I’d think you’d see a slight increase. I don’t think we’d see a dramatic increase because college students still are going to be more consumed with what’s going on in their life, with what they’re doing with their class schedule, with who they’re dating, what’s on their smart phone at that moment than to get out to vote. With older voters, they are more motivated because they have specific interests that resonate with them. Young voters, they don’t have that sense of motivation. They feel that they’re still in college, their parents are still partially responsible for them, they’ll figure out this election stuff as they get older.

Price: In addition to addressing the interests and needs of young people and getting them involved in the political process at an early age, Johnson says that younger citizens need to understand that voting isn’t just about presidential elections. In fact, it’s the state and local races and referenda that can have the biggest and most personal impact on their lives…

Johnson: It trickles down. And what they don’t realize, these local votes they affect, you know, the governorships, the state legislatures, all who really, even for college students, have an impact on their college tuition, on courses that are taught, who the college presidents are, their entire educational lifestyle.

Price: Of course, communicating with young voters through social media is a big plus for campaigns on all levels, and candidates who do it well and consistently can have an edge when it comes to getting out the youth vote. Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg says that you tap into the research on the youth vote and politics, and how young people can become more engaged in the process on Circle’s  website at civicyouth.org. To find out more about David Johnson and his work, he invites listeners to visit his site at strategicvisionpr.com. For information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. I’m Gary Price.

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